Union backs referendum on NSW power sale


A key union has backed calls for a referendum on the proposed multibillion dollar sale of NSW’s electricity network.


The Liberals and Nationals will hold party room meetings on Tuesday to discuss offloading state-owned “poles and wires” assets to help fund infrastructure projects and retain NSW’s triple-A credit rating.

But Premier Mike Baird faces a major battle securing agreement for the plan, with the coalition split on the issue after Nationals deputy leader Adrian Piccoli and Nationals MP for Monaro John Barilaro announced their opposition.

Mr Barilaro on Monday proposed a public referendum on the sale, which could see some or all of the state-owned network firms – the companies that run the poles and wires across NSW – privatised.

The Stop the Sell Off Campaign, run by the Electrical Trade Union and backed by state Labor, supported the idea.

“Premier Mike Baird has said repeatedly that he won’t sell the electricity network poles and wires without a mandate, and what better way to seek a mandate than with a referendum that allows the people of NSW to have their say,” said campaign director Adam Kerslake.

“The electricity network is the largest public asset in the state, delivering almost $3 billion a year in proceeds to treasury, so a sale is not a decision that should be taken lightly.”

The chief concern among opponents of the sale is that already rocketing electricity prices will rise again after privatisation.

Electricity prices in NSW have surged more than 80 per cent between 2006 and 2014, while gas prices have risen 40 per cent and could rise another 17 per cent from July 1 under plans being considered by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal.

Mr Baird has refused to confirm the details of any sale, following reports last week that 49 per cent of the assets might be sold on a 99-year lease.

He has said any proposal would be taken to the March election.

Mr Piccoli outlined his opposition to the sale last week.

“If [people in] Sydney want to sell their poles and wires, they can do that,” he told ABC Radio.

“But in the country, where Essential Energy run the poles and wires, I certainly won’t be supporting the sale, even the partial sale.”

A Nationals spokesman said its MPs would be free to put forward further opposition to the plan during its party room meeting.

“Rest assured that all members of the parliamentary party will make their views known without fear or favour, as they have always done,” he told AAP.

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